The Totality of Selflessness, by Hilary Gan. A beautiful essay on the surreal-ness of pregnancy. “You do not yet have a name, or a voice, or even color. You are white on black, an image of sound in silence, a presence in the void.”
SNOW, by Shelley Jackson. A story written word by word in the snow. I can’t believe I forgot about this. It’s been a year. I love this s(n)o(w) much.
My Father on the Telephone, by W. Todd Kaneko. I read these poems under an orange tree and cried. “He doesn’t yet have a word/for cancer. Neither of us do.”
Chastity Belt, by Meghan Phillips. “All the girls in my class got chastity belts for Christmas except me.”
The Poem Climbs the Scaffold and Tells You What it Sees, by Natasha Oladokun. “despite yourself/ despite how many times you’ve killed the animal inside you only to meet it again in the morning"
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado. One of my favorite books of all time. “A new woman does not just slough off her old self; she tosses it aside with force."
Extreme Unction, by Melissa Goode. “I look at him. His gaze is on a group of women at another table, and I slow dive within myself, spiraling down, until I am in the pit of my stomach with nowhere else to go.”
Pavlov Was the Son of a Priest, by Paige Lewis. “Now, I demand a love that is stupid and beautiful, like a pilot turning off her engines mid-flight to listen for rain on wings”
For You I’ve Started Sleeping, by Kaveh Akbar. “The body / is a glass orchard or at least / yours is every part blooming /and breakable”
Suburban Legend #3, by Catherine Pierce. I love it when poets write prose. “The man had many things to say—jeweled things, delicate cobweb things—but he told himself it was a long way to DC; there was plenty of time.”
Calling a Wolf a Wolf, by Kaveh Akbar. “The lesson:/ it’s never too late to become/ a new thing, to rip the fur// from your face and dive/ dimplefirst into the strange.”
Pyramid Scheme, by Hera Lindsay Bird. “i used to think arguments were the same as honesty/i used to think screaming was the same as passion/i used to think pain was meaningful/i no longer think pain is meaningful”
Quiet, Please, by Leesa Cross-Smith. “I think often of escaping from noise. Wherever I am, I like to sit by windows, doors. I like knowing how to get away when I need to get away.” Yes. Yes. This.
PLOTS ARE FOR DEAD PEOPLE, by Jacqueline Doyle. Technically a craft essay, but SO GOOD. I love reading about flash almost as I love reading it. And writing it :) “I enjoy bending and compressing and dismembering plot, looking at its constituent elements like a puzzle or a mathematical equation.”
The Larger World, by Brandon Taylor. “He loved them because of inertia. He loved them because to stop loving them would destroy him and them.” Everything about this piece is brilliant.
Cheap Yellow, by by Shy Watson. One of my absolute favorites. “i don’t know how better to communicate it.// you are a sailboat/ & i am nothing at all.”
A Dripping Childhood Memory, by Noa Sivan, translated by Yardenne Greenspan. An excellent two-sentence story.
Something Mary Ruefle said at AWP: “Writing: to send out a word in the darkness and listen for what sound comes back.” She also said, "That is such a beautiful question -- I will not spoil it with an answer.”
Forfeiting My Mystique, by Kaveh Akbar. “To the extent I am/ necessary at all, I am/ necessary like a roadside deer —/ a thing to drive past, to catch/ the white of, something/ to make a person pause,/ say, look, a deer.”
Sunday Drives to See My Grandma, by Leonora Desar. Great opening line, can’t quit reading: “It’s like when I used to take Sunday drives with my parents. The car was going to crash and we were all going to die.”
Father, by Zach VandeZande. God my heart hurts every time I start to read this. “I know the knife is going to enter my child when I feel time slow. I know there will be an accident.”
The ways we are taught to be a girl, by xTx. "After the things are done, you will feel like a bad person. These feelings will never go away. They enter the wet plaster of you and harden into the mold of you. The way you are taught to be a girl will become how you are as a woman."
Ron, by Joy Baglio. You know when you read something and instantly feel “OMG I have a new favorite writer?” That’s how I felt. And I was sad that she doesn’t have a book I can buy of hers yet.
We Lived Happily During the War, by Ilya Kaminsky. “In the sixth month/ of a disastrous reign in the house of money// in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,/ our great country of money, we (forgive us)// lived happily during the war.”
Touch Me, by Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes. “All my life, I have reached out and grabbed for all the hands I could hold.”
Five Micros, by Kathy Fish. The parentheticals in these micros are phenomenal. ”(The appearance of a comet is also known as an apparition.)”
y to z, by elahe zare. “You are a you in motion, there’s no stillness possible in their design, no cohesion, no finality.”
No Forgiveness Ode, by Dean Young. "Some piece of you/stays in me and I'll never give it back./ The heart hordes its thorns/ just as the rose profligates."
NOT THAT BAD, Claire Schwartz. "My language is so imprecise. I am thrashing in what I can't tell you."
The Mother, by Maggie Smith. “The mother is glass through which/ you see, in excruciating detail, yourself.// The mother is landscape.”
NOT THAT BAD, Brandon Taylor. “If I do not remember and do not hold people accountable for that boy's pain, then no one will remember it... If I forgive all of the things done to me, done to that boy that I was, then I will betray everything I promised that boy when we endured those things."
Naked in Death Valley, by Claire Vaye Watkins. “How rarely we let pleasure lead the way.”
ABCs of Flash Writing: Q is for Quiet, by Cathy Ulrich. "The best flash writers are the ones playing the rests, letting the readers fill in those moments of silence with their own music, their own story. Master those quiet moments, those unsaid things. Your writing will be stronger for it."
Natural People, by Anna Geary-Meyer. I love this story SO MUCH. Every time I read it, I love it. "I find a room in Van Nuys from a cousin’s friend-of-friend and whisper Craigslist three times into my bathroom mirror and thus appears my first job."
The Surviving Conjoined Twin Learns the Art of Kirigami, by Cathy Ulrich. "I clutch and clutch and clutch at mine.” Paralyzing -- stunning. Showing us how a title and a last line seal a story in, and spiral a story out.
The Fairground, by Stephanie Hutton. “In the hall of mirrors, he holds my waist as I see all versions of him: charming, snarling, violent, sorry. The band around my wrist cuts into flesh. But I have paid my fee, so I will stay.”
SAD MATH, by Sarah Freligh. “Whoever is infused with my blood will be drawn to me, a millimeter at a time. You must believe it can happen.”
A Boy Who Does Not Remember His Father, by Joy Baglio. "Magic tricks too. He knows how to make a flower bloom from a rock, a stone bird fly away; knows what card the border officer is holding behind his clipboard. A magician, that’s his father’s best costume.”
Yellow, by Anne Sexton. “When they turn the sun / on again I’ll plant children / under it”
Abstinence Only, by Meghan Phillips. “After the girls left, the school started to stink. The fug of boy bodies.” What a brilliant opening. What a perfect use of the (word?) ‘fug.’
THE BABYSITTER AT REST, by Jen George. “The nurse informs me that I miscarry early on each pregnancy. ‘Maybe that’s why I feel a great sense of loss at all times.’”
I’m Not Here to Play the Suffering Minority for White Readers, by Chen Chen. "I want to say, this poem starring a napping rhino is an Asian American poem; in fact, despite it not being about how hard it was to immigrate, it is the most Asian American poem I have ever written."
A Tiny Something, by Saraiya Kanning. God what a mantra. Also I learned what a verdin is! "There are emails to be written and clothes to be washed. But...make space for a single point in space and time. Lizard peering from a crevice. Verdin weaving a nest. Bee pollinating a nasturtium. I return to Earth, this tangible place."
Descending a Staircase, by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi. “It’s just a habit of standing there, of existing for a moment in the verdant hopefulness before descending the staircase and becoming fractured by the day.” Oof.
The Host, by Kathy Fish. There’s always something terribly impressive about micro fiction. This one’s about indigestion.
An Index of How Our Family Was Killed, by Matt Bell. This story always makes me want to experiment with form. It reminds me that every choice we make as writers has an effect. "Do not forget that you are doomed, that your family carries doom like a fat bird around its neck, that it is something you will never be rid of."
Obit, by Victoria Chang. Moving seamlessly from a laugh to a feel. “My optimism covered the whole ball as if the fish had never died, had never been gutted and rolled into a humiliating shape. To acknowledge death is to acknowledge that we must take another shape.”
Continue: Y/N, by Kendra Fortmeyer. A phenomenal video-game and gamer tale. I love it from the start, where it begins: “She has one job, and it is to offer the hero a flower. She says, “Would you like to buy a flower?” and if he says yes, she says, “That’ll be 1 p,” and if he says no, then she says nothing.”
The Greatest Failure of All Time, by Christopher Boucher. “I even appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show! ‘Let me give you a test,’ said Kimmel. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘What is the capital of California?’ I peed myself. ‘Wow,’ said Kimmel, and he stood up and clapped.”
Father, by Zach VandeZande. A beautiful model of how when time contorts, it can underscore how helpless we are to stop things, how we want to stop things anyway. “I know the knife is going to enter my child when I feel time slow. I know there will be an accident.”
Now That the Circus Has Shut Down, the Human Cannonball Looks for Work, by Meghan Phillips. One of the best titles ever. Also a great example of titles and first lines cooperating nicely with one another. And a beautiful, super short piece.
Bats of the Republic, by Zachary Thomas Dodson. “Some said the land was burning. That there were folks outside, in the rot, setting fires. But nothing could be seen. Not even the flocks of birds Zeke had read about in old books. It was as dead and flat as a page of text.”
A Question, by Brandon Amico. "the flowers bide beneath the frost,/ in touch with their subconscious, waiting to be called back--and they will" <3
The Babysitter at Rest, by Jen George. “I’m trying to have a baby. I’d like to name her Ocean, but I fear the implications: the void, vast emptiness, the unknown, big whale shits, giant octopuses, or other possible hentai tentacle situations.”
I Wanna Be Adored, by Melissa Goode. “I sing my favorite song and you keep getting closer. I tell myself the mantra from my therapist—I have a feeling. I am not a feeling. You are so close now. Only two feet away. One foot.”
You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm, by Paige Lewis. “When they were boys/ they were gentle. And smart. One could// tie string around a fly without cinching it/ in half.”
Desert Island Diet, by Megan Giddings. A spellbinding shipwreck of a poem. “[We] talk about which of the men we absolutely shouldn’t trust. I say none. She says just the Steves. All men are Steves to me, I say, and it’s become our one joke. The rain is being a real Steve today. Don’t Steve out on me. We can make it.”
Now You See Me, by Tiffany Quay Tyson. “Do you think of me? Do you imagine me folding clothes at the mall? Do you picture me walking alone through the dark parking garage at night? No. I don’t think you do. Maybe I don’t exist unless you are looking straight at me.” Heartwrencher.
Rockets Red Glare, by W. Todd Kaneko. “Once, we sang/ like wolves out in the snow, faces/; turned up at the constellations and hoping/ someone out there understands and howls back.”
2 AM AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS, by Marie-Helene Bertino. “Sure, she’s back in her hometown teaching grade school and she can’t fill out the tops of most dresses, but she can tell stories, goddammit.”
Crafting Flash Fiction with Joy Baglio, by Joy Baglio. Technically a YouTube immersion into flash, but SO good and brilliant. “Just let your first draft happen. Try to remove all judgement during this part of the process.”
A Nearly Beautiful Thing, by Cathy Ulrich. Brilliant and ballerinas and bears!! “She doesn’t think of you, or, when she does, it is as an abstraction, the frigid wife. Your husband didn’t say frigid, but the ballerina thinks of wives as being cold things, thinks of ice and unyielding bodies.”
Lone wolf narrative, by Kristin Chang. DAMN this poem. “at school the teachers teach him to shoot/ for the stars/ to constellate/ a body with bullets/ & baptize himself white/ in the light.”
The Friend with the Knife in his Back, by Ben Loory. “So, in the end, we left the knife in.”
Mothers as Makers of Death, by Claudia Dey. “When I became a mom, no one ever said, ‘Hey, you made a death. You made your children’s deaths.’”
Safe as Houses, by Marie-Helene Bertino. “She is a woman who thinks a book can turn her into an oak tree, who has imagined a hole inside her so big it could vacuum up the table and chairs, the refrigerator magnets, the candlesticks, her two kids, and the husband.”
Poem with a Possible Unidentified Flying Object, by Kate Gaskin. “All this glittering city/ and yet we are still only/ animal and heat/ and the renewable resource/ of tears.” <3 <3
Madlib, by Kim Magowan. An example of how form can be so informative, and also how impossible it is to communicate - how impossible it is not to communicate something. “Ron said if I KNITTED you, he would FLY me, and besides, you would never WHISPER me.”
Us, by Leonora Desar. The opening lines are just brilliant. “My husband is cheating on me with me. It’s simple. It’s the younger me. The me when we first met.”
2100, by Andrew Payton. How humbling it is to live beside the river that may one day destroy us.
The Vulture & the Body, by Ada Limón. “What if, instead of carrying// a child, I am supposed to carry grief?”
Dead Stars, by Ada Limón. “Look, we are not unspectacular things. / We’ve come this far, survived this much. What // would happen if we decided to survive more?”
Some interpersonal verbs, conjugated by gender, by Alexandra Petri. “She must think about his future; she must think about her future./ She must say nothing; she will say nothing; she says nothing; she said nothing.”
Bird, by Dorianne Laux. “What do I have that she could want enough/ to risk such failure, again and again?”
The Perfect Childhood, by Pia Ghosh-Roy. “This is their time, precious little time, to be blissfully ignorant of the neat and faulty boxes we adults have created for ourselves.”
When Naming Isn’t Enough, by Rebecca Hazelwood. “I’d begun to think of women as nothing but a collection of body parts to be examined and criticized and discarded. I wonder how my life would’ve been different if I hadn’t assumed all men thought like my father. If I hadn’t been as judgmental of women’s bodies as my father. If I’d believed it when anyone called me pretty.”
MEAN, by Myriam Gurba. “Somewhere on this planet, a man is touching a woman to death. Somewhere on this planet, a man is about to touch a woman to death.”
Five Similarities Between Writing and Falling Down 47 Flights of Stairs, by Todd Dillard. Which, why is 47 flights of stairs in particular so funny? But it’s SO funny! “It is harder to finish a piece if you start writing it, stop, and then start again. You have to keep up your momentum. The same is true about falling down 47 flights of stairs.”
I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party, by Chen Chen. “ I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling/ on the string that makes my cardboard mother// more motherly, except she is not cardboard, she is/ already, exceedingly my mother.” My heart.
Dead Bird, by Todd Dillard. “In the dark I listened to the chainsaw growl./ I imagined you holding it over your head./ I imagined you thinking: I am trying to be a good father,/ bringing the chainsaw down.”
Poem in which nothing bad ever happens to me, by Jameson Fitzpatrick. This poem breaks my heart a hundred ways. “Here it never happens, so I don’t have to tell you about it.”
Chew, by Dana Diehl. “Once, she finds a bone that looks so much like a human clavicle that I worry one day she’ll realize I am a body containing a skeleton.”
Segmented Moments, by Hannah Gordon. “She drags her fingers through my hair. It hurts, but I don’t tell her. I imagine her nails drawing blood from my scalp. I imagine her tearing me apart.”
My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work, by Tiana Clark. A masterclass in the verb, a poem for imposter syndrome, “I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write./ I truth when I lie. I throw a book/ when a poem undoes me. I underline/ Clifton: today we are possible. I start/ from image.”
Ada Limon: While technically not a poem, she is talking poems, reciting poems, and being an orb of healing light.
An Arm or a Palm Frond or a Boot, by Michelle Ross. “But then he kissed her, like she was oxygen and he was asphyxiating. Other boys had only ever kissed her like she was helium.” I mean. All of her sentences are magic.
Crush, by Ada Limon. “dearest, can you/tell, I am trying/to love you less.”
Things Haunt, by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. “California is a desert and I am a woman inside it./ The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.” <3
Heart Condition, by Jericho Brown. With just totally brilliant last lines: “Greetings, Earthlings./ My name is Slow And Stumbling. I come from planet/ Trouble. I am here to love you uncomfortable.”
Dead or Alive, by Kim Stoll. Whose narrative haunts me so long after I’ve left it. “I am in the room now but I can’t touch anything, I am years away from myself.”
When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows, by Paige Lewis. The best kind of love poem. “We bring the shadow game home/ and (this is my favorite part) when we// stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled/ my husband grips his own wrist,// certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.”
The Spirit Neither Sorts Nor Separates, by Linda Gregg. “There is a flower. We call it God.”
MUSICA HUMANA, by Ilya Kaminsky. “Once or twice in his life, a man/ is peeled like apples.”
Some Say the Lark Makes Sweet Division, by Jennifer Chang. “I break your heart:// that is how a poem should begin, and then you break my heart/ because that is how a poem should end.”
Good Bones Motion Poem, by Maggie Smith (poet), by Anaïs La Rocca (filmaker). HOLY WOW.
Hapnophobia or the Fear of Being Touched, by torrin a. greathouse. I won’t spoil the last line :)
Heaven, by Blas Falconer. God. The power of just two sentences.